When my son Matt was about 14, we were sitting on our front steps talking, and noticed a young boy riding his bike up the street, stopping at the houses before ours. He looked like a poor kid, not unhappy, but you could see he didn’t have a lot materially. He was selling pot holders.
When he reached us, I asked him how much they were, and went back in the house to get my purse. I told Matt he could pick one out, and I’d pay when I returned. I came back outside with the money, and Matt was still looking them over. Then he asked the boy, “How do you make these?” I could see that no one else had asked that question, and the boy lit up. He started telling us how he wove the strands together, and how he picked the colors. Matt listened like this little boy was explaining something profound.
Had anyone ever been that interested in him before? I don’t know, but I can imagine that it might have even changed him…. It certainly did me. I’m not berating myself, but in that moment, I was just “someone doing a good deed for a needy kid.” Matt noticed a human being who made useful, colorful things to sell and engaged with him at that level.
So many of us get discouraged that we are not doing “big things” to help others; joining the peace corps, running a mission, opening a school in Pakistan, organizing a march for peace…. We see others doing these grand things and feel like we come up short. Interestingly though, some of us have done grand things, and still feel the same way.
There is a part of the mind that never fails to let us know that we are not quite good enough, not sincere enough, not nice enough, not giving enough. We think there will be, some big thing that we will do, or become, and that we will finally feel that we are somehow OK. And this is simply not true. Meaningful life is lived in the little, moment by moment, ways that we are present, first with ourselves and then with others. We might be led to do bigger things but they will still unfold in little daily steps.
Every time I pull out this pot holder, I think about that sweet little moment in time so many years ago. It uplifts me, and makes me remember that it is the genuine act, no matter how seemingly insignificant, that changes both us and the world.
“Let one who wants to move and convince others, first be convinced and moved themselves. If a person speaks with genuine earnestness, the thoughts, the emotion and the actual condition of their own heart, others will listen because we are all knit together.” Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)